Although fat tailed sheep make up about 20 – 25 % of the world's sheep population, most people in the Western world have never heard of them. Most people are familiar with traditional wool sheep who usually have their tails docked. Today we will introduce you to a few breeds of sheep that store fat in their tails, and rumps, much in the same way camels store it in their humps.
Fat tailed sheep are also called fat rumped sheep. They are kept in the arid regions of the world, mostly Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Though some fat tailed sheep produce wool, these sheep are traditionally kept for meat and milk, the exception being the Karakul sheep who are often used to produce lambs that are often slaughtered the day of their birth to be used in coats. This is actually such an extreme practice some ewes are forced to abort early, or older ewes are slaughtered before giving birth, so that fetal lambs can be harvested and slaughtered.
Fat tailed sheep were bred specifically to produce the fatty tails which were used in soups and other cooking. The fat of the tails is called Allyah, with the tail representing up to 15% of the entire carcass weight.
In addition to the Karakul, mentioned above, other breeds of fat tailed sheep include the Awassi, which is a popular sheep in the Middle East, best known for its milk production abilities. These sheep have longer wool coats and are often brown and white.
Another breed of fat tailed sheep is the Blackhead Persian, which is a hair sheep used for meat and milk production. As the name implies this sheep is white with a black head. You will note hair sheep shed, and do not have wool.
Fat tailed sheep are generally hardy, able to endure hot conditions in the day, and colder nights. They are adapt at surviving on scrub conditions of the area, and traveling about with nomads. These sheep are traditionally kept gentle so they will stand to be milked.
Shearing is done on those sheep that produce wool and is usually done with hand shears twice a year. The wool being used for blankets and carpets.
As fat tail sheep mature their fat deposits get larger, with some having tails so long and fatty they would reach to the ground (sorry, I was unable to find a picture of such a sheep that was copyright free for use here).
Tail docking is never done in fat tailed sheep, as the tail, and rump, are important fat storage areas. Additionally the ethnic market that desires these sheep prefers them “unblemished” meaning that their tails should not be docked.